In an unlikely evolution for Russian oligarch Igor Makarov, the energy billionaire/His People have started to flood the internet with sponsored content targeted at cyclists.
A number of broadly-similar articles in the past few weeks have popped up on distant backwaters of the internet, some disclosed as ‘Sponsored Content’ and others just presented as Makarov benevolently sharing his wisdom. Which is odd, because he has a lot of money and plenty of other stuff going on.
One such piece [published May 16], appearing on the website for Spanish content farm EuroWeeklyNews, is titled “Bicycle Tips for Beginners by Igor Makarov”. Another, on the website for Santa Clarita, California, radio station KHTS 98.1 FM, appeared on May 9: “Igor Makarov shares 5 endurance tips for cyclers”. A third, for the same local radio station [published May 31], is titled “Former professional cyclist Igor Makarov shares tips for road cycling”.
Makarov is indeed a former professional cyclist, but that was 40 years ago on the track – not the road – and not at the level that he has claimed. And while he undoubtedly has experience in cycling, including more than a decade as an influential member of the UCI Management Committee, it is more than a little odd that he would spontaneously be offering up basic tips for cyclists on obscure websites. After all, he has bigger priorities – like a personal wealth of an estimated US$2 billion, with all the trappings of that including private jets, superyachts, and lavish Florida mansions. He is also far from fluent in English, and has no reported ties to Santa Clarita’s leading adult contemporary radio station.
So why would he be sharing nuggets of wisdom like his suggestion “to message your state’s Department of Transportation or look up bike-friendly roads”; “to try different foods to see what sits well in your stomach and helps sustain your energy levels”; to “aim for 200 to 400 calories in liquid or solid form every hour during your ride” (but not too much near the start of the ride, lest you encounter “indigestion, cramping and diarrhea, making it difficult to continue riding”)?
That’s an interesting question with an unclear answer. We know, for example, that Makarov has a shadowy, carefully-curated web presence – including a periodically active Twitter account full of tweets that almost certainly weren’t written by him, a Medium page that blends copy/pasted cycling analysis with management tips, and a personal website that has recently been nuked from existence. We also know – from statements given by his PR people to numerous publications – that Makarov is sensitive about accusations of his support for the Russian government. The opposite side to that coin is the fact he has been sanctioned in relation to the war by Ukraine, Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada (Ukrainian authorities have described him as “one of the key supporters of Russian military aggression”.
Significantly, Makarov was named in a series of articles in Le Monde last week that have drawn renewed attention to UCI President David Lappartient’s ties with Makarov, as well as former Turkmen dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov – stories that were kicked off by now-defunct cycling website CyclingTips (RIP), but have increasingly made their way into mainstream French publications, with Lappartient most recently questioned by l’Equipe in the context of his bid for presidency of the French National Olympic and Sports Committee. Makarov, meanwhile, was back in Google search alerts after the lucrative completion of the sale of assets in Canadian energy company Spartan Delta Corp, a fact that is probably entirely unrelated to the fact that Canada has labelled him a “close associate of the Russian regime” that was complicit in the “illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine”. He was also recently named in an article about Wyoming’s notoriously permissive ‘cowboy cocktail’ shell corporation laws, while Le Monde revealed that he’d recently bought his way into Cypriot citizenship “in exchange for investments of several million euros on the island”.
A suspicious mind might speculate that the appearance of a flurry of lightweight cycling-related articles, published in obscure outlets in a language Makarov is not fluent in, merely serves as a way of trying to flood Google’s algorithm with competing priorities, obfuscating less savoury results. It’s certainly not for the reads – the two KHTS articles have barely 300 views combined.
Or maybe those are nothing but dark ponderings. Maybe Igor Makarov – gas billionaire and kingmaker of global cycling – really woke up one day and decided that the world needed to know his thoughts about bike security (“Igor notes that bikes are easier to carry or dismantle; therefore, make sure that the wheels and the frame are locked and take any removable items like your lights with you”) and pacing (“Igor believes it’s important to pace yourself and avoid going too hard too soon”).
In the context of an eyebrow-raising burst of generic bike content, that’s some wisdom that Makarov – a long-time veteran of flying beneath the radar – could heed for himself.
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